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In the last 50 years, global animal populations have shrunk by nearly 69%

animal populations decline
Posted at 11:22 AM, Nov 11, 2022

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The beauty of nature and the animals that live within it is enough to mesmerize and to captivate. However, when you realize animals like these are in danger the focus can shift.

Sapphire is a loggerhead turtle at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista, California. She was struck by a boat in the wild—not once, but twice.

"Boat strikes are a very common occurrence. Most rescued sea turtles are rescued either due to entanglement ingestion of plastic or boat strikes," said Aiyana Reissman, the animal care manager at the Living Coast Discovery Center.

Every year, thousands of sea turtles like her emerge from their nests. Few survive to adulthood, with the estimates being only 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000. Rehab and wildlife centers are working to increase those odds.

"In some situations, it means that an animal is so impacted that they can't survive on their own out in the wild and that's where the living coast steps in," Reissman said. "Research shows that's one of the biggest ways to further our mission of conservation and really preserving the natural habitats."

Reissman explains the crucial role that animals like Sapphire play in saving her species.

"In turn, they are able to serve as ambassadors for their species. People can come here and see some of those animals they might not be able to connect with out in the wild," Reissman said. "Research shows that's one of the biggest ways to further our mission of conservation and really preserving the natural habitats."

The World Wildlife Fund says that the number of monitored wildlife declined by 69% percent between 1970 and 2018. It's a result of climate change and human activity. Freshwater species dropped by an average of 83% and vertebrate populations in Latin America and the Caribbean fell by an average of 94%.

"Without them, I mean it's grim that's the best way to put it, it's going to be a constant decline if we're not trying to combat that," Reissmand said.

However, scientists say there are success stories here in this country that proves that change is possible. Back in the 1970s, there were only 13 of them left. Ciera MacIssac and her team are partially to thank for their recovery. The California Wolf Center is the second largest holder of Mexican gray wolves in the world.

"This is something that you can see a difference, and we have especially with the Mexican wolf species survival plan, we've seen a drastic change in not only the numbers of a species that was almost extinct but also in the ecosystem and the mindset of people living with wolves," MacIssac said.

"Our mission is to return wolves to the wild, where they belong and where they've been in existence," said Theresa Kosen, the executive director.

They know firsthand what happens when there is a decline in a species.

"It's a cascading effect, ya know, when you lose a species it cascades into the ecosystem in that area that affects other ecosystems," Kosen said.

"We had a taste of it with Yellowstone. It really showed us what it can look like without their apex predator without their keystone species the wolf. The elk populations, the deer populations exploded. They started over grazing; they started eating all the roots and saplings of trees, so an ecosystem fell out of balance," MacIssac said.

"So what happened in the late 1880s into the early 1900s is we pretty much eradicated the wolf from North America," Kosen said.

Kosen says organizations like theirs work to rescue some, breed them in captivity and slowly reintroduce them into the wild.

"And it took people with a vision to see that the wolf is not a scary creature. It's not a big bad wolf; they can exist with humans," Kosen said.

"There are 57 facilities currently that house Mexican gray wolves and are part of their breeding and release programs," MacIssac said,

Humans may be responsible for the decline of these populations, but they are also the solution to saving them.

"It's awakening for so many that need to listen to that call and support the conservation efforts that we're working on right now all over the world," Kosen said. "To capture what we have left, to make sure we save it and reintroduce it where we can."